Final Fantasy IX – Not Just a Game, But an Experience (Spoilers)

Final Fantasy IX is a game I’ve had quite a history with. It was the first of the 3D Final Fantasy games I played almost a decade ago, and I’ve always enjoyed its charm. But for some reason, I could never beat it. It was typically external reasons. The first time I tried, my PS1 broke and I could no longer play it. The second time was on someone else’s system, so I didn’t have enough time to get to the end. The list goes on. I’ve had multiple versions of the game over the years, but was never able to beat it for some reason.

Until yesterday, that is.

For the past few months, I’ve been playing the Switch port of the game. It was really quite nice, given the fast forward function makes level grinding significantly faster. There were a few glitches and my game crashed multiple times, but through all the struggles, I finally made it to the end of the game yesterday. I knew how it ended because I used to be obsessed with Final Fantasy stuff online, so I learned much about the plot of games through reading about them, but it was the first time I got to see it firsthand. It’s quite rare for me to beat a game I’ve never beaten before, as it takes me years to get through one, but anyone can tell you that there’s a big difference between just knowing how a game ends and experiencing it for yourself. The feeling of happiness and accomplishment that came from beating this game I’ve been trying to beat for almost 10 years was indescribable.

I think that comes from the fact that you played through the game to thee end yourself. You experienced the same hardships as the characters in the game. You saw their emotions as the story developed, you were there with them the whole time. So to finally see the story come to a close brings a sense of satisfaction and, well, closure. I feel like that’s obvious to most people who play games, but to someone like me who never really gets that chance due to procrastination or what have you, it’s like a new realization. After beating it, even my girlfriend encouraged me to start beating more games I’ve been wanting to beat over the years to get that feeling of accomplishment and closure with all these games I’ve started but never finished. With that, I’m on a bit of a journey, though that’s all beside the point. I want to talk about my experience with Final Fantasy IX.

I’ve seen the beginning of this game so many times that I basically have it memorized. I don’t know if it’s a poor attention span or what, but that’s typically my Achilles’ heel when it comes to video games. I start these games over so much that I get bored and eventually procrastinate, making it to where I just never make progress. (That’s why I haven’t beaten Persona 5 Royal yet.) It’s also well-known that the combat speed in Final Fantasy IX is incredibly slow, especially when compared to the rest of the series. That’s a big part of why it took me so long to finally beat this gmae. However, once I got past that and just dealt with it, I started enjoying the game much more. When you play a Final Fantasy game, you’re usually in it for the story and characters, not the gameplay. (Though I do have a fondness for turn-based RPGs as a whole.) With that in mind, I appreciated the game more. I took more time looking at my surroundings, I read the dialogue with mindfulness, taking it all in, and just enjoying the music as a whole, adn I found it was far more enjoyable than I ever anticipated.

On top of that, reaching the end of the game was quite a trip. All the numerous storylines you’ve seen throughout the game coming together at the end was amazing. The last time I got to Disc Four of the game, I was still 14 years old, so seeing the endgame as an adult was like experiencing it for the first time. I’d heard that the ending feels rushed, and that the final boss doesn’t really make much sense, but when I played it myself, I feel like it worked well. The only part that felt rushed to me was the final dungeon itself, Memoria. It was relatively short, and while you did get some nice drops of lore, it felt rather vague. Perhaps that was intentional, because everything after Memoria no longer felt rushed to me.

I finally got to the two fights preceding the final boss. The first one was a fight I never won as a kid, so when I beat it, I was nervous but excited at the same time. I was ready to take Kuja on. I had a bit of trouble, but I had an incredibly solid team at the same time, so I took him down with relative “ease,” if you can even call it that. When I beat him, I wanted to stop for a moment, but I pressed on, ready to take on the true final boss, which is a character not technically mentioned at all throughout the game, which is why I feel people think it makes no sense. But it made sense to me. To me, the final boss represents death and the fear of death that many of us mortals feel. Beating the boss does not mean putting an end to death, but it’s like a symbolic fight where you cast away your fear of death and choose to live without that fear. That’s how I saw it. You come face-to-face with the fact that you will indeed die someda and when the fear of it comes up, instead of letting it consume your days alive, you fight the fear, telling it that you know it will happen someday, but there’s literally no reason to fear it. Especially when you still have life in you.

Final Fantasy IX, to me, is a game about that existentialism, the knowledge that you will die, but it’s okay. Right here and now, you’re alive. While you have this life, don’t stress out about the inevitable. Instead, just live. Don’t just survive: live. We’re not meant to live in fear, sadness, or anger. We’re not meant to be alone either. Love people. Love yourself especially. You may be your own worst critic, but if you were to ask your friends, if they are good friends who see the real you, they’d probably say you’re pretty damn great and are deserving of life. Like Zidane says to Kuja at the end, no one in the world is useless. So if you feel that way, that would be your emotions lying to you. I could just be getting preachy, but these are my honest feelings after having seen the whole game firsthand. Final Fantasy IX has an amazing message, one I think everyone needs to know.

Nostalgia in Video Games

I’ve been on a Final Fantasy kick the past few days, going back and playing a bunch at once, which is never a good idea, but I like to keep my options open, so I generally play multiple games at a time instead of focusing on one. (Gotta love starting with a run-on sentence.) But after playing them for a while, I got to thinking about my feelings regarding the series. Primarily, the fact that my tastes have changed.

Growing up, Final Fantasy IX was my go-to game, at least until my PS1 broke. Then I just got the port on the PSP and PS3 before it was released on the current gen consoles. There was something I loved about its world, the characters, and the story it had to tell. Back then, I didn’t have as much experience with the series as I do now. I was still new to RPGs in general. But after spending almost 50 hours on the game in my current playthrough, I’ve realized that I don’t quite feel its magic as much as I used to. Granted, that could be because of dealing with adult life in the middle of a pandemic and a screwed up government, so magic is pretty hard to come by these days, but still.

Whether it’s that or the fact that I just burned myself out on the game, I don’t feel it the way I used to. With that, I decided to take a break from Final Fantasy IX and start a new file in Final Fantasy VII instead. (With the help of my girlfriend, because I am indecisive and couldn’t choose between VII and VIII, so she chose for me.) The moment I booted the game up and heard the opening theme, I felt right back at home. Even as I write this post, I’m blaring the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack. I’m already three hours in with Aerith in Wall Market, and still having a blast.

After playing it for just a few minutes, however, I realized something. I even talked to my brother about it to see if he felt the same. I have the Final Fantasy VII Remake, and I have absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I seem to enjoy the original game more despite the fact that the remake added so many amazing new parts and fixed many of the narrative issues the original game had. But why is that, when the remake is most definitely an improvement? My brother got back to me and said he felt the same way, and explained it’s because of the nostalgia we have attached to the game.

As kids, even though we never had a copy of the game because it was too expensive online due to scalpers, we were super into Final Fantasy VII‘s lore, the characters, the story, the music, everything. We’d seen Advent Children multiple times, we had a copy of Crisis Core that we played the hell out of, we watched playthroughs, we pretended to be characters from the game when playing outside, and we even attempted to dress as Cloud and Sephiroth one Halloween.

Thinking about it that way, it occurred to me that the nostalgia was a big reason why I had such an attachment to the original game. Playing it brings me back to that point in time when life wasn’t so crazy. But of course, that’s just looking at life through rose-tinted glasses. We often make the past seem much grander than it really was, especially when the present day feels so hopeless. While it’s fine to reminisce on the past, it’s important to avoid over glorifying it, since that makes us resent the present even more. At least, in my experience. The point is that Final Fantasy VII gives me this feeling of being right at home. On top of that, I just enjoy the turn-based combat system more.

While I personally enjoy the original Final Fantasy VII more than the remake, that doesn’t mean I think any less of the remake. Heck, even now, I also feel like playing that. What it means is that this solidifies that our tastes are purely subjective, because we don’t all share the same memories. The collective unconscious might be a thing, but at the end of the day, we’ve all lived our own lives and made our own memories. We each have memories attached to things like video games, music, books, shows, movies, etc. That’s often why we get attached to them. It’s not the only reason we get attached to them, of course. That’s a whole other article in itself right there. But it is a common reason.

While nostalgia does often increase our love for a game, I’ve noticed that a lot of people either use it against others, or get defensive if others don’t like a game they enjoyed, or if someone likes a game they did not enjoy. Looking at it from a psychological point of view, I always saw this as a case of someone making the things they like part of their identity. So when someone dislikes something they like, it’s as though they feel like those people are disliking them, and they take it personally, intentional or not. I say that because that’s how I used to be and still sometimes feel.

When that happens, I reevaluate myself. The world is crazy right now. With social media being a thing, it’s easy for us to lose our sense of self. Perhaps it’s a feeling of inadequacy, helplessness, loneliness, or we’re lacking something important in our lives, like serotonin. Something makes us latch onto the things we enjoy and treat them like they’re an extension of ourselves, and that becomes a very thin shield to protect our rather fragile hearts. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a game, especially if it brings back wonderful memories. We all need any bit of happiness we can get. It’s equally important to not forget our sense of self.